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Glorious War: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer

Thom Hatch, St. Martin’s Press

Little that transpired during George Custer’s West Point years foreshadowed the huge mark he would make on the Civil  War and his military endeavors during the 10  years that followed. He was a prankster and an indifferent student who was nearly booted from  the academy, but out of necessity he saw action  from the war’s start. The bravery he showed at  First Bull Run drew the attention of George  McClellan, who appointed Custer to his own  staff. Custer worshipped his fellow Democrat,  saying, “I would forsake everything and follow  him to the ends of the earth.”

After McClellan was forced out of the Army,  Custer joined General Alfred Pleasonton’s staff,  where some mockingly called him “Pleasonton’s  Pet.” But it was the young officer’s saber charge  at Brandy Station in June 1863, not his fidelity,  that earned him promotion to brigadier general.

Thom Hatch tends to hurry through battle  accounts, and overstates the significance of  Custer’s July 3 engagement with Jeb Stuart at  Gettysburg. A number of historians reject Hatch’s  argument that “the actions of Custer that day are  worthy of a prominent place in the history of the  Gettysburg battle—perhaps even as the turning  point—and in the history of the Civil War.”

Hatch is at his best narrating Custer’s courtship of future wife Elizabeth Bacon. Also effective is his use of Thomas Rosser—Custer’s West Point  roommate from Texas—as a recurring character.  After Rosser joined the Confederate Army, they  kept track of one another, facing off in several  battles and exchanging notes. Rosser readily  acknowledged Custer’s martial superiority, and  even after Little Big Horn ardently defended his  former roommate, adversary and friend.


Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.